By Henry Akubuiro
I know a thing or two about madness, Stanley Ejiogu, Brain-Box Books, Port Harcourt, 66, 2022
In in the middle of reading Stanley Ejiogu’s second volume of poetry, I know a thing or two about madness, for this review, ANA released its 2022 Poetry Shortlist, with the book earning a spot on the list. Ejiogu has been erased as a poet, but the depth of his poetry is beyond doubt to those who follow his vignettes.
Ejiogu functions as a poet, activist, essayist, philosopher, political commentator and musicophile sold on eclectic sound vibrations. All of these distinctions resonate directly or indirectly in this volume of poetry. But it is the activist in him that the reader sees so blatantly in the poetic strata. In verse, he is an impassive faceless poet.
I know a thing or two about madness is not a book about mental illness. The esoteric monologues of madmen or inner darkness orbiting their tribe do not resonate in Ejiogu’s verses. The madness here characterizes the just indignation of a malcontent throwing stones at the glass house of antipodal forces. It also characterizes the authoritarian domination and the psychotic clicks which jeopardize the social balance. Where the poet finds an abandoned nation, he envisions a monolith to defend a rebirth. A stone-colored poet like Ejiogu is impervious to autocratic whistles or kisses.
I know a thing or two about madness contains 43 poems in a collection that the poet chooses to push the truth of the sequestered province towards the light. Ejiogu chastises the powers that be the same way he interrogates their accomplices across the dividing line. For him, we ceded leadership to a madman on the throne whose designs are insidious, in the opening poem, “The throne abhors a vacuum”. Thus, the lament “Madness has come to stay” (p.2). This line puts the unwary in a mood.
The poet is saddened by the hatred that we cultivate as individuals, which has stolen our humanity. Thus, “It has done us in…” becomes a refrain to make its repercussions understood in “The Hate We Breed”.
Regardless of today’s grim reality, the poet believes that a day of judgment will come when every oppressor will have to answer for their misdeeds. This day of judgment is described as “the day after tomorrow” on page 10. The darkest hour is closest to dawn: it is a leitmotif that we encounter too often in I Know a thing or two about madness. Another example is found in the poem “As the Turbulence Gathers Momentum”. Here we meet a sleeping captain whose engine is turned off as the flight drifts endlessly. There seems to be an air of helplessness among the crew members on board, who choose to have fun instead. Amid the turbulence, passengers head home to roost, again.
The ‘I Told You I Love You’ activist didn’t flee the country like many. Instead, it flutters with the wind in quiet fury. It floats and rises like a new dawn. Even when the taste of the flute has soured, mingled with the sounds of Surugede – spirits – the voice is aware of its deadly imports, but there is a burning desire to continue the fight to save the nation, no matter what the implications.
A reward is what comes with hard work. When it doesn’t come to you, you’re bound to feel unappreciated. The theme of ignorance resonates in “They won’t say anything about my poetry”. The voice laments: “They won’t say a thing about my poetry/Not when the ink is wayward/And angry harsh lines hardly win a prize” (p.31). The poet also alludes to the horrifying images hanging on the walls of familiar dreams that his verses depict, which could also have robbed him of his validation. But the consolation for this social activist is that “the prize of the activist waits in the sky”/While the bars of the hedges do not rise” (p. 22). However, chances are that this air of discouragement is about to change for good.
Going back to the past, the poet revisits Biafra. We find the exuberance of Benjamin Adekunle, alias the Scorpion, during the war, an aggressive soldier, who bit and stung anything that moved, in the poem “A Scorpion Named Ben”. In “Uli Airstrip” and “Requiem”, the ravages of the Biafra war also reverberate.
What explains the dominant sobriety of this collection of poetry is the militant penchant of the poet and his vision of a better society. From his nation’s sad past, he aspires to a better future where love and fairness reign. Ejiogu is a poet whose poems are written in inviting lyricism.